The University of Rhode Island women’s volleyball team went on the road for their final two matches of the season to play the Loyola Chicago Ramblers, who were coming in on a 14-game win streak, on Friday and Saturday.
Rhode Island lost both matches in straight sets, finishing their season at 4-26 and 1-17 in Atlantic 10 play.
The Rams were up against a challenge playing the second-placed team in the conference on the road, and were unable to gain any real sort of momentum throughout the weekend.
“We had certain goals and stats markers we wanted to take care of, we just wanted to make sure we controlled what we can on our side,” URI Head Coach Angel Agu said. “To refocus on those goals and tasks was something that allowed us to stay a little more present, while still competing at a high level.”
In the opening match on Friday, Loyola Chicago got 15 kills throughout the first set without making a single error. Rhode Island also put together 11 kills as a team, but eventually dropped the set by a score of 25-17.
The second set was dominated by the Ramblers from start to finish, as they jumped out to a 17-4 lead. Rhode Island’s attack struggled throughout this set, as they had a -.182 attack percentage. Loyola Chicago went on to win the set 25-10.
Third-year Emma Vente and fifth-year Gabrielle Shilling provided some sparks for the Rams in the third set, combining for seven kills. But, once again Loyola Chicago displayed why they’re near the top of the conference, not making an attack error throughout the set, as they only made two in the entire match. The Ramblers closed out their win with a 25-13 final set.
Loyola Chicago led significantly in kills (42-26), aces (7-1) and assists (38-25) throughout the match leading to their victory. Rhode Island was unable to gain a lead in any of the three sets.
Despite the final score being the same on Saturday, the Rams were able to stay more competitive in the match. The opening set started out very back and forth, when Rhode Island was able to get their first lead of the weekend at 10-9 after a block by second-year Aerin Bowman. Loyola Chicago responded by going on a 6-0 run, before it was snapped by a kill from Shilling. This was unable to spark anything for the Rams as the Ramblers took the first set 25-15, aided by an 11-2 run.
Loyola Chicago carried their momentum from the end of the first set into the second set, starting on a 6-1 run. Rhode Island was able to get consecutive points for the first time in the set when they cut it down from 10-3 to 10-5. This effort was led by kills from first-year Madi Disu, who had a team leading seven kills in the match. Agu spoke about Disu’s impressive rookie season, as she also led the group in kills on the year with 230.
“She’s a special one, she’s able to take in the game really rapidly,” Agu said. “I’m excited for her future and I’m really proud of what she was able to accomplish this year.”
That 10-5 deficit was the closest Rhode Island got in the second set, as Loyola Chicago ultimately held a comfortable lead throughout and won it 25-12. The third and final set on Saturday ended up being the most competitive set of the weekend, involving nine ties and two lead changes.
“To see them have that fight and energy against an amazing Loyola Chicago team is a testament to us continuing to want to finish strong,” Agu said.
Kills from third-year Hope Passerello and fourth-year Samantha Blahut aided an early 3-0 run to get Rhode Island out to a 5-4 lead. The Rams were able to build the lead to 10-8, the first time in either match they held a lead by multiple points. As was the case throughout the weekend, Loyola Chicago found a way to quickly gain the momentum. Fourth-year Karlie McNabb capped off a 7-1 run for the Ramblers with a kill, one of her 12 kills throughout the match. This run saw a 12-10 deficit turn into a 17-13 lead for Loyola Chicago, but Rhode Island continued to find a way to not let the lead grow beyond four for a majority of the set. Ultimately, Rhode Island just couldn’t string together consecutive points down the stretch, Loyola Chicago took the final set 25-20 to finish off back to back wins in straight sets.
When it comes to the wins and losses, it was not the ideal result for the Rams on the weekend, or throughout the season as a whole, according to Agu. However, she feels that it goes far beyond this in evaluating what the team can take from this season.
“Of course you want more wins in the win column, but there’s so many other things I hope these players can continue to take away from this season,” Agu said.
Part of this growth is the fact that it’s a much younger Rhode Island team, according to Agu. Of the 15 players on the roster, 13 are eligible to return to the team next season.
“Knowing that we have a younger team, four freshmen and three newcomers,” Agu said. “To see how close knit they were and always found ways to get better was really encouraging.”
Looking ahead, the offseason preparation now begins for the team both on and off the court.
“Now, it’s time to process and let their bodies recover, on both ends we just need some time to get away,” Agu said. “Then, it’s just focusing on how we can continue to get better with training and making sure we’re still improving on the volleyball side of things.”
The University of Rhode Island women’s volleyball team will look to use this season as a building block to try and continue to grow for the future.